Inspector Bryar had been in his chambers about an hour when the assassin slipped in.
The long trip up to the Veiled Cloister had left Bryar sore, with every little pebble beneath the rickety cart rattled right into his bones. The room was stultifying, too, even in the cool mountain atmosphere. Father Yser had offered assurances that this was the best bed in the cloister; if that were true, Bryar pitied the poor inhabitants even more than before.
But it was his room’s very stuffiness that saved Bryar: when the assassin slid open the door, a breath of resplendent alpine air snuck in with him. And when the dagger plunged into the Inspector’s bed, what would have been a fatal blow to the heart became only a serious dagger-slash to the arm. And if the assassin had expected an Inspector of the Holy Sepulcher to be an easy target…he was mistaken.
The shattering of an oil lamp against his shoulder was proof enough of that. The vicious kick that followed was merely reinforcement.
“I was a soldier, friend, before I was a cleric answerable only to the King of Layyia and the Creator in that order,” said Bryar. He reached under his stiff pillow and produced a dagger of his own, a plain but sturdy army model. “Leave now, or explain your actions to the Creator in person.”
A cascade of hot oil from the lamp made the assailant shriek, though the mask he wore–that they all wore in the Cloister–was as calm and beatific as ever. Though technically a man of the Sepulcher as well, the monk cursed vividly as he fell to the ground with hot oil scalding him through his clothes. Bryar dashed open the window, letting in moonlight to allow himself a better defense.
With a cry that was as much anguish as it was determination, the monk reversed his grip on his dagger and charged forward for a stab. Bryar responded with an upper thrust, the very move the army taught for such situations. When the monk recoiled, his hand was empty, and bloody, with the plain linens he wore in tatters. Though the holes, Bryar could see the flesh those raiments were to conceal: burned, as if in a fire, and discolored. It was the mark of someone who had suffered the ague, and despite the purpose of his inspection and the purpose of the Cloister itself, it was the first time Bryar had beheld it.
There was no time to hesitate. By the moonlight, as the assassin yowled, Inspector Bryar took up a wooden stool and dashed him across the face with it, hoping to knock him to the ground and thus take him alive. The man howled, tottered, but remained standing. His mask, however, was torn off his face, and at this it was Bryar’s turn to recoil. The monk of the Cloister had on his face the same totality of apparently burned flesh that all ague sufferers had been besmirched with, with a lump of scar tissue with holes in it where his nose ought to have been and no mouth.
But it was his eyes that made Bryar shudder with horror. They were black, sclera and iris alike, and surrounded by pustules of something equally inky and dark. The effect was like looking into the eyes of a wolf spider. One had burst, and dark liquid, sweet-smelling by some perversity, dribbled down the assassin’s cheek.
Sensing an opportunity, the monk dashed off into the night, leaving Bryar to helplessly call for aid from Father Yser as blood from his arm began to drip onto the Cloister floors. This place had been meant as a sanctuary for sufferers from the ague, a place of healing and isolation. Why would they want to kill the man who represented the religious largesse that kept every last person in the Cloister alive and well-fed?